US says Israel has made refinements to Rafah assault strategy to reduce risks of civilian harm after Biden demands


(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said Wednesday that Israel has made “refinements” to its military operations in and around Rafah following pushback from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the president’s demands.

Jake Sullivan, just back from a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, noted to reporters at the White House press briefing that Israel’s assault on Rafah in southern Gaza has been “more targeted and limited.”

“We had detailed discussions on Rafah during my visit to Israel. These have built on weeks now, as I’ve discussed with you from this podium, of discussions on a professional basis, about Rafah and about how Israel can achieve the defeat of Hamas, everywhere in Gaza, including in Rafah, while minimizing civilian harm,” he said.

For weeks, the U.S. had insisted Israel produce a “plan” to minimize civilian casualties in an attack on Rafah, where it said more than a million Palestinian civilians had sought shelter after being forced from other areas of Gaza.

Biden had suggested his demand to limit civilian casualties was his “red line” amid protests in the U.S. and abroad over his response to Israel’s attacks in Gaza.

Sullivan met with Netanyahu during his visit.

“I was briefed by Israeli officials and by Israeli professionals on refinements that Israel’s made to its plans to achieve its military objectives while taking account of civilian harm. What we have seen so far in terms of Israel’s military operations in that area has been more targeted and limited, has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas,” he said.

Sullivan said the U.S. will “now have to see what unfolds from here” and whether what Israeli officials have laid out continues to happen.

“There’s no mathematical formula. What we’re going to be looking at, is whether there is a lot of death and destruction from this operation or if it is more precise and proportional. And we will see that unfold. And we will obviously remain closely engaged with the Israeli government as we go. That’s how we see the situation right now.”

Amid increased tensions over Israel’s vow to invade Rafah with the aim of wiping out what it said were the last four battalions of Hamas fighters, Biden had paused a shipment of 2,000 pound bombs to Israel that he and other administration officials said Israel could use to kill civilians in Gaza.

Sullivan’s comments come after a senior administration official said on Tuesday that Israel has taken the U.S. concerns over an operation in Rafah “seriously” and had “updated their plans.”

“They’ve incorporated many of the concerns that we have expressed and the president has expressed,” the senior official said.

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